Coffee, Tea Or Mee?

Words by Aw Yuong Tuck
Photos by Hamza Delbar

Sabah is also called the “Land Below the Wind”. It is the second biggest state in Malaysia after Sarawak. There are many traditional Chinese coffee shops in Sabah that incorporated Muslim eateries, serving halal food.

Having said that, the segregation between races are much less evident here in comparison to the Peninsular Malaysia. To understand this phenomenon, the ISO Sabah crew interviewed the owner of Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop to learn more about the racial harmony that can be found in local coffee shops.

Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop is 121 years old and it has been operating since 1896. The shop looks like a traditional old coffee shop with furniture like marble tables and short wooden chairs. In the past century, the Leong family had been serving traditional Malaysian kopitiam food to anyone who eats in their shop. Five generations have passed since the coffee shop first operated and it is now currently one of the oldest eateries located on Gaya Street.


IMG_7931Multiracial presence in Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop.

Mr. Leong told us that their bestsellers are kaya toast and satay. Customers always order some toast and mix it with the sauce that comes with the satay. According to Mr. Leong, the coffee shop has been receiving a lot of attention from the media in the past decade. Sometimes the shop can be flooded with tourists, but most of the time the place serves the local citizens. According to the owner, the ratio between the international and local customers is 3:7.

Mr. Leong also shared that his coffee shop is the actual representation of 1Malaysia, where all races and faiths can be found sharing the same food, regardless of having a halal certificate or not. “I was shocked when I see the segregation that they have in the West Malaysia”, he mentioned. When asked about his reflection on the differences between East and West Malaysia in terms of halal and non-halal accreditation, Mr Leong said, with a sense of wariness, “I hope that the wind from the Peninsular would not blow here”.

Other than Yuit Cheong Coffee Shop, Fook Yuen Coffee Shop is another outlet that features a Muslim eatery in a Chinese coffee shop. Fook Yuen Coffee Shop also sells traditional kopitiam food, including Malaysian favourites like noodles and rice. The coffee shop features dim sum as well and their specialties, roti kahwin and teh tarik. Most of the workers are Muslims, with Muslim ladies wearing tudung at work. Even though dim sum is not a traditional Malay food, these Muslim workers do not mind cooking and serving dim sum at work. It shows that Muslims can cook and serve non-traditional Malay food.


IMG_7909.JPGMuslim lady working in a Chinese shop.

Having to join Malaysia since 16th September 1963, Sabah has been experiencing racial harmony between different races and indigenous tribes. Mr. Leong stated that, “In Sabah, so far there’s no conflict in the food and beverage industry”. He also hopes that the harmonious food culture between races can be prolonged and everlasting.

In general, Tuck is an actual representation of every non-conformist.


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